The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reported a statewide dip in fatal wrecks involving teens for 2012, although Hall County’s figures were less encouraging.
Hall’s total was outpaced only by Gwinnett County.
Statewide there were 37 fatalities in 2011, and 23 in 2012. In Hall County there was one fatality in 2011 and three in 2012, preliminary studies show.
“One is one too many,” said Harris Blackwood, director of the office. “Even with the decrease, we still lose too many. Even at 23 right now — the preliminary number for 2012 — that’s 23 lives that have been changed forever.”
Ashley Fielding, spokeswoman for the office, stressed that the figures reflect fatal crashes that involved a 16- or 17-year-old driver, although the teen wasn’t necessarily at fault.
There were two deadly wrecks in Hall County in 2012, both in September, which resulted in three fatalities. In one of the accidents, the teen driver was cleared of charges.
The other, which left two people dead, is still being investigated, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Franka Young said.
On Sept. 12, a 17-year-old Hall County teen was struck by 77-year-old Robert Douglas Colwell, who was traveling the wrong way on Ga. 53 in the eastbound lanes.
Austin S. Grey of Dawsonville was traveling eastbound in the left lanes; Colwell’s car hit Grey’s head-on.
Colwell died five days later, and was charged with driving under the influence and driving on wrong side of the roadway. Grey’s injuries were treated at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, Young said.
On Sept. 30, a teen driver and another vehicle collided, killing a 50-year-old woman and a toddler.
The teen driver, not identified because the investigation is ongoing, Young said, was driving west on Ransom Free Road attempting to cross Ga. 283. Lora Thompson was traveling south. The teen had a stop sign when the car struck the left side of Thompson’s vehicle, killing Thompson and Anna Grace Jones, 3, of Dahlonega.
Blackwood, a Gainesville resident, said crashes involving young drivers often are preventable.
“All too often, those crashes are avoidable. Think of it this way: We’re putting our most inexperienced drivers out on the road behind two tons of steel,” he said.
The national Governor’s Association of Highway Safety indicated that studies show graduated licensing programs are one of the most effective tools for lowering teen driving fatalities and injuries.
“That tells us that those drivers are spending a little more time in preparation,” Blackwood said, regarding the tiered driving allowances in Georgia and many other states.
Reaching teens peer-to-peer is an often-used strategy, and the newest focus from the governor, Blackwood said.
“Gov. Deal shares our concern, and he has appointed 22 teens to form a Governor’s Commission on Teen Driving,” he said.
The commission comprises 22 teens and young adults ages 15 to 19, Blackwood said.
“They applied to our office, their applications were reviewed by an independent group and recommendations for appointments were made to the governor,” he said.
Their report comes out next month.
“We’re looking forward to their report. Then they’ll convene a new group, and some of them will continue on, and hopefully, they’ll develop new ideas, new approaches, educating and training for saving lives,” Blackwood said.
Blackwood said while he was pleased with the improvement from 2011, he can only hope that the downward trend continues.
“I think the greatest thing is that we may reach a curve this year in Georgia. We don’t know yet. But it’s where the numbers have gone down to their lowest, and we hope this is not that year,” he said. “We want teens to be safe; we want everybody to be safe. But these young, inexperienced drivers are out there in a world where there’s so many drivers distracted by all kinds of things.”